As far as controversial first ladies go, Nigeria has always had its own fair share of the dish. Not that controversy in a president’s spouse is such a damning phenomenon on its own. If it were, the US would have collapsed under the weight of controversial first ladies.
But the US survived Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, reputedly the most controversial first lady in the history of that country. Eleanor not only spoke up regularly on all kinds of issues and topics, she was even labeled a Communist and a Socialist by her critics. She remained a political activist even after her husband’s death.
Same with Kenya which wouldn’t have survived Lucy Kibaki, President Mwai Kibaki’s first wife. This was one first who lady literally who slapped and punched her way through her husband’s eight-year presidency.
While we shouldn’t condone attention-seeking and disruptive first ladies - it’s not really our job to hold any of them accountable - unless they run foul of the law, I believe it should be the prerogative of their husbands and other family members to rein them in whenever they start dancing to strange beats.
I don’t know much about some Nigerian first ladies up to 1985 (about 32 years ago). But I remember the elegant Maryam Babangida and her Better Life for Rural Women project. Never mind what we now know - that it should have been aptly named Showtime for Urban and Powerfully Connected Women. It wasn’t all bad news with her though; we can also remember that it was during her reign (oh, did she reign?) that many Nigerian women learnt the virtues of high-neck tops.
Maryam Abacha, who succeeded her, wasn’t any less formidable even if hers was served in cold and haughty tones.
I also remember Stella Obasanjo quite well, especially as she ensured that the off-the-shoulder top for women was placed on a high pedestal during her five-year reign in Aso Rock.
Turai Yar’Adua wasn’t heard much but as the alleged captain of a cabal that held the country down while her husband was fighting for his life, she fought battles that left even the men very much bewildered in the end.
But, you see, none of the ladies above was as publicly vocal as Dame Patience Jonathan and Hajia Aisha Buhari.
Many of us have just refused to forget, or let go of, Dame Patience Jonathan. But do you blame us? She was just the bomb! Like a fish in her native Okrika waters, she swam and literally inhaled the punches, no matter how hard they came from her critics.
Yes, there were times she stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb, like the time, defying protocol, she alighted the presidential jet not only preceding the president (her husband), but also went ahead to shake hands with the dignitaries awaiting her husband while he was still at the aircraft’s door.
But hey, that was simply the Dame in her natural habitat; protocol wasn’t just her thing. And that’s probably the reason that even after leaving the throne, we simply can’t let go. Let’s face it; you can never get two of her kind in one lifetime. Not possible.
Remember also that deviance is a trait we all secretly admire, especially when it comes packaged in our political elite and leaders.
I have always had this belief that if the Dame had been driven by more selfless aspirations during her time in Aso Rock, Nigeria and Nigerians would have had the gift of the best first lady ever.
Her successor, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, has been no less a surprise and, lately, a delight too. From the (in)famous BBC Hausa Service interview about a hijacking cabal to pregnant-with-meaning parables about hyenas and jackals and lion king, and moving on to looking at our impotent public servants in the face and calling them by their names, this first lady comes close to being the real deal.
And if the Sahara Reporters story about members of the president’s kitchen cabinet codenaming the first lady ‘The Suicide Bomber From Yola’ is anything to go by, then it’s obvious they’re scared of Aisha. She simply cannot be controlled and nothing frightens a manipulative, power hungry cabal as much as having an indispensable team member they can’t keep on a short and secure leash.
The power of the other room and all the secrets it holds will always triumph over that of kitchen cabinet and any cabal unit that doesn’t recognize this is on a suicide mission. But one thing we should almost be certain of about this present cabal is that though they may be homicidal, they’re definitely not suicidal.
So, the first lady, Hajiya Aisha, is not just safe, she is also invincible and it would be a great shame if that invincibility wasn’t used for the good of Nigeria and Nigerians.
Nothing less is expected of her.
When your recent past as a nation is colourfully marked by an incompetent and weak president like Jonathan and the present by a painfully slow and perennially indecisive one like Buhari, your salvation may well lie in their official partners in the other room.
So, as 2019 fatefully marches to our doorsteps, perhaps we should begin to consider measuring future leaders by their choice of official consort?